United second string fail to hit the right note
Manchester United 0 CFR 1: Manchester United now move on quickly to Sunday’s Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium. A soporific evening added to the unwanted statistic of Alex Ferguson’s team conceding first – for the 15th time in 23 outings – but this was a second string selected for what was a dead rubber.
Instead, the Champions League is now put to bed until February and the serious business of December’s congested domestic calendar can be addressed.
United were already through as group winners and Ferguson retained only Wayne Rooney from the side who took part in Saturday’s 4-3 win at Reading. The manager again citing his star forward’s need for games to remain sharp.
One issue against Reading had been defending high balls whether from set pieces or open play. Here United’s rearguard fared a little better during the first half, though there were still shaky moments in a display studded with absent-minded lapses.
United started the brighter. A sharp twist and run from Javier Hernandez finished with a pass that split Cluj’s defence and Rooney, again fielded on the right, drove in a ball that won the opening corner. It was taken by Ryan Giggs, who would have an uneven 45 minutes, while Danny Welbeck’s near-post header was misdirected.
After an over-hit punt from Rooney that went straight into Mario Felgueiras’s hands, United’s first scare came when a poor clearance from Chris Smalling led to two corners.
Cluj’s best opportunity fell to Modou Sougou but his shot was deflected wide by Scott Wootton. The ensuing corner saw Rooney block a Camora effort.
United woke up as half-time neared. Tom Cleverley, replaced just before the break by Paul Scholes, was sent clean through but his touch was clumsy.
A Rooney corner appeared to have been headed home before the ball was plucked off the line by Felgueiras, and moments later a clever Rooney chip came close to lobbing the keeper. Smalling had perhaps the best chance but he steered his header wide of Felgueiras’s left-hand post.
United were then undone by Luis Alberto. Nick Powell might have done better with a Scholes pass. Instead, he was dispossessed and when the ball came to Alberto he skipped forward and let fly a 25-yard shot that pinged in off David de Gea’s left post.
Group stage perils
As the Champions League capitulation of Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City was contemplated by the blue half of this footballing metropolis, Ferguson laid out his thoughts on the perils of group stage.
Ferguson said in the United programme: “You have to learn quickly in Europe and if you don’t, it goes without saying that you have to wait until the next season to have another crack. It may seem an obvious thing to say but it takes some getting used to because it is different from the bread and butter of league football.
“The Champions League is a particularly unrelenting taskmaster and unless you can come to terms with its highly competitive nature it can break you as easily as it makes you.”
But for Cluj it was not enough to qualify, with Galatasaray joining United in the knockout stages.